Yesterday, Parliament Square saw a huge gathering, attended by those of all parties including Conservative and Labour MPs, protesting against anti-Semitism in the Labour party. Despite facing accusations of anti-Semitism and the enabling of it within his party almost from the moment he was first elected Labour’s leader, Corbyn chose this protest as the time to finally apologise, in a letter in response to that addressed to him openly by the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council.
In the letter from Jewish leaders, they said ‘enough is enough’ to anti-Semitism within Labour, and called for action. An ‘institutional failure’ to address the issue was bemoaned and, strikingly, the leaders said Corbyn ‘personifies’ the problem of politicised anti-Semitism, before calling him the ‘figurehead’ of this abhorrent culture.
The response from Jeremy Corbyn typified the weak, lacklustre leadership he has long demonstrated when discussing the issue. He claimed that he ‘will not tolerate any form of’ anti-Semitism within Labour. Yet, time and time again, he has done. His letter contained no commitment to action, beyond a vague offer of an ‘urgent meeting’ with Jewish leaders.
Here’s the thing. He may not be an anti-Semite himself, but Mr Corbyn won’t chase anti-Semites out of the party. Doing so would alienate many of his core supporters. There is a reason it has taken this protest just to get him to say the word ‘sorry’ with regards to his actions in 2012, when he defended a blatantly anti-Semitic mural. There is a reason he has been an active member of no less than three Facebook groups in which anti-Semitic content has regularly been posted, quitting them only when he realised he was about to become leader of the Labour party and such memberships might be a bad look for him.
Even if he is not an anti-Semite, Corbyn’s actions, or lack of them, have clearly enabled those who are. In under three years of his leadership, such people have gone from tiny fringes of the party to bordering on the mainstream. The true scale of the issue, though, is far larger than the anti-Semitism seen in the last week.
Corbyn’s hard left ideology and rhetoric-driven politics have led to a culture of hatred, lies and scapegoating among hard-line Corbynistas. The cult of personality which has developed around Momentum’s beloved Jez has created a siege mentality under which there is no room for dissent or question. Labour’s rampant anti-Semitism problem is the biggest symptom of these issues.
Truly, it is difficult to argue there has been a more toxic leader of a major political party in the UK in the last decade. Tim Farron stood down amidst accusations of homophobia and Nigel Farage’s nationalist sentiment was at times disturbing at best, but neither created such a widespread toxic culture within a party with hundreds of thousands of members.
Jeremy Corbyn stood for the Labour leadership on a platform of a ‘kinder, gentler politics’. Yet his rhetoric is responsible in no small part for a more hateful, more divisive politics. His enabling of anti-Semitism is the biggest and most obvious element, but the scope of the problem cannot be seen as so simple.
Make no mistake, Labour is seeing a party-defining moment. If Corbyn does not clamp down after this latest scandal, and more like it emerge, there will come a time when his moderate MPs will not stand for it any longer. A split in the party may eventually become inevitable. Moderates on both sides of the political spectrum should welcome such a split.
The sooner it comes, the sooner the hateful far left ideology loose in our political discourse can be defeated, and the hate that comes with it kicked out for good.